I’ve been wanting to delve into some non-Western cinema for a while now, but it’s hard to A. know what’s good and B. find it with English subtitles. I have a thing for Aishwarya Rai (yes, because of Bride & Prejudice, which I adore), and for Indian history, so Jodhaa Akbar (2008) seemed like a good one to rev up. Now, I know very little of the specifics of Indian history (or the history of Indian dress), so I’m going to assume you need as much context as I did!
Jodhaa Akbar purports to tell the story of 16th-century Mughal (i.e., Muslims from Central Asia, who ruled much of the region that is now India from 1526 through the 1850s) emperor Akbar the Great (aka Jalal-ud-din Muhammad, reigned 1556-1605) and his (first) Hindu wife, Mariam-uz-Zamani, later called Jodhaa (hence the movie title). It was a Big Deal that Akbar married a Rajput (clan) Hindu (apparently he was the first Mughal to do so) and, according to the movie, what started as a political alliance turned into a Love Affair and led to religious tolerance.
Clearly a lot of money was spent on the film, and the locations are gorgeous:
What may be Bollywood tropes were a leeetle difficult for me to handle. There was A LOT of literally cackling-level LOL moments for me (sorry neighbors!), like when:
Also, the movie is THREE HOURS AND THIRTY MINUTES. Given the amount of time Akbar spends doing this while watching Jodhaa from afar, I feel like a few of those minutes could have been cut:
Also, from my rough-and-quick reading, it looks like the history isn’t too accurate. Yes, Akbar married a Hindu princess who came to later be called Jodhaa. But in the film, she’s portrayed as 1. his only wife, and 2. the empress. Actually, she was his fifth wife, and although she gave birth to his heir, it was Akbar’s first wife Ruqaiya Sultan Begum who was his empress consort and who was the most important of his 14(?) wives.
Finally, some of the characterizations were OTT, like Bairam Khan, the general/regent who raised Akbar and was alllll big buggy eyes and “let’s chop off their heads!” glee.
Costumes in Jodhaa Akbar
So while I’m interested in Indian dress history, I will freely admit to not knowing a lot about it. I did some quick reading and looked at a lot of images from this period — luckily Akbar commissioned an official history of his reign that is full of images of the actual people in this story, so it made it pretty easy to compare.
The costumes were designed by Neeta Lulla, who has a long resume of Indian films. There are at least a couple of interviews with her available online, and here are some interesting bits and pieces:
“What made it easier was that everything was well researched. Even then, I worked on this project for a year and half because there was very little information available about the costumes and jewellery worn during that period … As the Mughal era was known for its grandiosity, we used a lot of warm tones though we were careful not to go overboard” (rediff news).
“Obviously, a lot of research went into it and Ashutosh had done a lot of detailed research for costuming and garments which he passed down to me. I did read this one particular book to go through Akbar’s life history and the events. We did refer to a lot of paintings of that era along with a lot of theory. We went to Jaipur to source the fabrics and the colour schemes to suit that time period” (Costumer’s Guide).
Overall, the costumes — especially, but not just, the women’s — are STUNNINGLY beautiful. There’s beautiful fabrics, embroidery, and jewelry up the wazoo, as you might expect.
Men’s Costumes in Jodhaa Akbar
First, let’s get the boys out of the way … although I mean that less than I usually do, because the men’s costumes are in generally REALLY pretty.
Avoiding specific terminology because no doubt I’ll mess it up, men in this era wear:
Now let’s look at the film’s costumes:
Women’s Costumes in Jodhaa Akbar
Again, avoiding most (OK, but not all) specific terminology:
I’d love to know more about the degree of difference (if any) between the Mughal dress and Rajput dress. What I can tell you is what I spotted in the film, whether it’s historically accurate, I don’t know.
The Rajput women wear long saris over choli tops:
I DON’T think Jodhaa wore trousers underneath, but I could be wrong:
The Mughal women tended to wear the higher-necked, shorter-length robes seen in period artwork:
I did see some period artwork where Mughal women were wearing what looks like the Mongol Boqta, the high, cone-shaped hat that, incidentally, may have inspired the medieval hennin … so I was glad to see Akbar’s mother wear one in one scene:
Akbar’s wet nurse/foster mother, Maham Anga, was one of many women who dressed in this very natural-cotton, white veil look. I wasn’t clear if they dressed so differently because they were servants, or if it was something religious, but it is straight out of period imagery:
Once again, there was tons of embroidery that I didn’t necessarily see in the period artwork, although the tons-of-jewelry checks out:
There were some really beautiful clothing-related practices, like how the women would hold the dupatta scarf (I think? Or is this part of the sari?) away from their faces when it was draped over their heads:
And, of course, the jewelry was stunning:
What can you tell us about 16th-century Indian costume? Got any good quality, easily-available-with-English-subtitles non-Western historic costume-y films to recommend?